Positive relationships: Let's talk about ... men in childcare
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Are attitudes really changing towards employing men in nurseries? Annette Rawstrone spoke with nursery owners.
Q: Do you employ any male practitioners?
A: 'We've never employed a man; we've never had the opportunity. We're based in Stoke-on-Trent and I think that's half the problem. We've not had a bloke apply for a job in 14 years.'
'We have had a male staff member since just before Christmas. We interviewed six people for a post under the New Opportunities jobs fund and he was the only man. None of them were qualified and he was the one who really stood out because he came across as having a genuine liking of children and a passion to work with them. But we did have a dilemma and thought seriously about how parents would react, whether they would think it was appropriate.'
'Unfortunately, we have never had a full-time male staff member, although we did have a Swedish guy who came to the UK for a year to improve his English and worked as relief staff.'
Q: Why do you think so few men work in childcare?
A: 'It is not a highly paid job, so I think the wages would put many men off. Men tend to go for work that has more of a career salary, whereas childcare is seen as a vocation.
'I also think that not many men see childcare as an option. They think that childcare is for girls, so it is just not in the mix when they are applying for jobs.'
'Our male staff member is the lone man in 14 staff, which could be quite difficult and off-putting for some people. Some men, especially older ones, may not feel comfortable in that position.'
'For childcare to be a long-term career there is always going to be the low pay issue, and many men are the main breadwinners.'
'I think many men do not regard childcare as a challenging profession, which is a shame because they would have many skills to offer us here.'
'There is still a big attitude problem. People say all the right things, but there is still a deep-set prejudice that stops particularly young men from coming into the profession.
'I'm male, but have never experienced that prejudice because of my age and because of my position as a nursery owner. But I've still always made sure never to put myself in a position that could be compromised. Women don't have to think every time before they touch a child.'
'Even with the push for EYPS, we will not attract many more men. The Government says it wants practice to be led by graduates, but these will be the graduates who will never pay back their student loans.'
Q: What would the parents think if you employed a man?
A: 'If any parent came to me saying they didn't want a man caring for their child, then I'd tell them their attitudes died with the dinosaurs.'
'In all honesty, I would have to think very carefully before I employed a man. This is an old-fashioned area and people do think differently. I think some parents would feel uncomfortable about it. But it would not stop us if the male candidate was the right person for the job. We'd flag up their appointment in the newsletter in a positive way first, but would expect some questions from parents. Some would think that it isn't right for a man to be caring for children, but I don't agree.'
'Our male employee has been with us for just over a month and we have not had any negative comments. One parent made a point of asking who he was and commented that it was a bit strange for a man to want to work in childcare, but no-one has said that they don't want him looking after their child.
'But you do have to think carefully about the parents' reactions. We also thought about whether it was right for him to change nappies. When it's thought about logically, why shouldn't it be OK? I, as a female, change boys' nappies.'
'My daughter did a thesis on men in childcare. She did a questionnaire and one parent, who we knew was a head of a primary school, answered all the questions positively, saying that the contribution of men in the early years workforce would be great and a positive step - but then she said that she would not let a male childcarer change her daughter's nappy. Why? She didn't think a man would understand the female anatomy very well. When you drill down, there is still a deep prejudice towards men in childcare.'
Q: What does having a man working in the nursery add to the setting?
A: 'We've only had male social work students on placement with us and they've been brilliant. My husband and I run the nursery, so the children do see a male figure on the premises every day but he is not playing with them. Having a man caring for the children would be good for positive role model issues and would also add a different dimension to their play. Men will often allow children to take more risks.'
'It would be brilliant to employ men because they would not go off on maternity leave. We employ a young female workforce and we have a lot go off to have children and then only want to return part-time. From an employment point of view, it would be brilliant.'
'He works in the pre-school room and the children really like it. Some of them do not have dads around, so it is nice for them to have regular contact with a man. I also think that he does things differently. He has been working with the children to create a big dinosaur out of cardboard boxes and this project has gone on for over a week. He comes at things from a different perspective to many of the female staff and we have never created something before on that scale.'
'It is good for the children to see a man in a caring role. It is a side that is not often portrayed. It can been seen as a weakness to be caring and nurturing.'
Q: Have the recent sexual abuse allegations in nurseries coloured parents' and staff opinions?
A: 'If we employed a man I know some parents would raise the issue of sexual abuse, but that's even more ridiculous as there have now been cases of women in nurseries abusing.
'We are a very open nursery and honest and the parents know that the girls do not have their mobile phones. It is an issue that we are able to talk about with the parents.'
'A couple of members of staff questioned whether we were right to take on a man. I think this was probably because of the media and sex abuse headlines, but that is not confined to men. The staff with the doubts have now been proved wrong. He is very good with the children.'
'In the past year there have been cases of females abusing children and now there is the case of a young guy charged with abuse in a nursery, but there is no evidence to show men working in childcare are more likely to abuse children.'
Q: How could more men be attracted into the profession?
A: 'As a profession we don't advertise ourselves well. We don't tell people what it takes to be a nursery nurse. There is so much more to the job and it's more challenging than simply watching children.'
'An improvement in salaries and lifting the status of an early years practitioner would help.'
'The term "nursery nurse" may put men off. Early years practitioner is better because it gives more status and shows that it is a qualified person doing a skilled job.'
'It is difficult while we are being funded by the Government at such a low level. We will never get out of being a low pay, low status industry because the Government treats us that way.'
AN EXPERT'S VIEW
By David Wright, owner, Paint Pots Nurseries, Southampton
My belief, based on my experience of working with the youngest children, is that boys and girls need men and women. Isn't this diversity? Clearly, the current imbalance in the workforce gender mix is a challenging position from which to build.
There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence for the reasons why men do not choose to work in our sector. Some of these are not specifically gender issues. The term "childcare" has sometimes been used as a pejorative term for a lower skilled, low status job, suitable for the less academic, typically female worker. Despite evidence from recent advances in neuroscience, the inception of Early Years Professional Status and the political rhetoric that recognises the importance of 'early intervention', as a nation we continue to undervalue the responsibility of those entrusted with the development of our next generation of citizens in their formative years. We simply do not value early years child care and development relative to other areas of employment.
Faced with such low rewards, any man or woman with the role of primary breadwinner finds it challenging to consider childcare as a financially viable option.
For any man who recognises his vocation in early years, there are the hurdles of culture, suspicion of motives, stereotyping and isolation to overcome. 'Why would a man want to work with young children?', 'This is not a job for men!', 'Good, we've got someone to take them all outside now.'
I know several men who have tried and given up because they didn't feel accepted - sometimes by parents and sometimes by female colleagues. Where success has come it is invariably through perseverance, self-confidence and the realisation that 'I am making a difference', leading to acceptance.
We need a fundamental change in attitude. Teachers and careers advisors need educating; men need to be encouraged to join the workforce.
I look forward to the day when 'Men in Childcare' is no longer an issue for discussion.
What's your opinion? To continue the discussion go to the Forums at http://forums.nurseryworld.co.uk/